Stretch. Struggle. Boring.
Such is the natural progression of your job. You stretch to land the job, struggle to keep up, and finally get so good at it that you become bored.
As a result, you might be feeling overqualified and unsatisfied. It may not be a great consolation to see this as the natural progression of things, but this may be an important insight to consider as you plan what to do next.
What to do next can be a tricky question. Because the obvious thing to do is to go out and get another job. But that can sometimes be the exact wrong thing to do.
It might be that you need to learn how to change your approach rather than your circumstances. You might be ready for just this sort of growth, which is one of the most powerful ways to grow personally and professionally.
There are powerful lessons (and rewards) in figuring out how to solve this problem on your own rather than looking for some external catalyst for change.
A little self examination can point you toward some really interesting areas to work on.
Making your current job bigger and better
If you reflect on where you are at in your career journey, you might think in somewhat narrow terms of progressing from one position to another.
But you are, of course, more than a series of jobs. And your career can be much broader than that.
After all, you have a wide range of interests but probably had to have a narrow focus to be successful in your field.
What if you step back for a moment and consider the breadth of things you are interested in and the range of possibilities you might like to explore for your future?
You might start to see some interesting possibilities.
A good framework for thinking about this can be to look at a few categories of skills:
- Hard skills. Good old fashioned specific knowledge and practice at doing certain tasks.
- Communication skills. Often the “make or break” difference between success and failure.
- Leadership skills. The not so secret ingredient to getting anything meaningful accomplished.
You have more ability to chart the course for your future than you might think.
When I worked in IT and wanted to learn about marketing, I wished someone would recognize my interest and potential and give me a chance to contribute in that area in some way.
Wishful thinking got me nowhere. But some initiative on my own did.
I studied marketing on my own, setup my own web sites and social media accounts, worked with the latest tools, and even started blogging about everything I was learning.
Soon, I started attending marketing conferences, meeting people, and learning even more. Over time, I accumulated enough knowledge and experience to contribute to events as a panelist or speaker.
Which led to landing two teaching jobs at two Boston area universities, furthering my experience and qualifications even more. And when people back at the day job learned of all my experience in this area, they did start to pull me in to the exact sorts of conversations I had been hoping to be invited to in the first place. Not only that, I felt much more comfortable being in those conversations because I felt I had earned my place there.
Could you teach yourself computer programming? Maybe go to some meetups or online forums to meet people in the field? Find some volunteer jobs to get some “real world” experience and then parlay that into some small gigs that lead to bigger gigs?
I bet you could. And I bet you could to that for design, financial analysis, tax preparation, sales, or any other area of hard skills, even if it’s far from whatever your current day job expertise is.
For many of us, hard skills are necessary but insufficient for the highest levels of success.
And the number one skill that will add value to any set of hard skills is communication.
The ability to convey information, influence thinking, and garner support for an idea is one of the most profoundly powerful set of skills you can have.
Communication skills come in two flavors: written and oral.
Modern times rely on the written word. We are all doing more writing now than we ever did in the past, and that trend is going to continue.
Think about it this way. How many problems do you deal with because of poorly written communication? Maybe a misconstrued text message, an unclear email, or a confusing report.
Now, imagine if you could be one of the few people that masters this form of communication to the point where your writing is consistently clear and compelling. Wouldn’t that set you apart?
Of course it would. And the beautiful thing is that you can practice getting better at this every day, right here in the “real world.” Because you are writing things constantly all day long.
With a little more attention to working on a goal of becoming more clear and compelling, you can start to review and edit your writing more carefully. You might even start to ask for others to help review your work before you send it out. Maybe you will even take an online course to learn some tips and tricks.
Chipping away slowly but surely over time, your writing will improve dramatically. Which will improve your effectiveness in your job and your qualification to take on new work that requires good writing.
You have the same opportunity with oral communication. You are talking to coworkers throughout the day, attending meetings, and maybe even presenting on a regular basis.
In each of these scenarios, you can strive to get better at speaking. You might work on how you structure your message. Or maybe you will develop better questions to ask in meetings. Perhaps you will volunteer for some speaking opportunities just to get the experience.
All of that will help you to hone your skills in the area. And again you will be able to study this on the side through books and blog posts and online courses. All that is required is some initiative.
If you can develop strategy, motivate people, orchestrate action, and make the hard choices required to keep all of that in balance, you can help people accomplish extraordinary things.
And that is a valuable skill indeed.
Breaking down leadership skills can help you find lots of things to work on.
You might want to develop your persuasion capabilities. After all, the ability to influence the thinking and actions of others is essential to leadership in today’s world where formal authority and hierarchy is becoming less important.
Maybe you will want to build stronger skills in relationship building. Organizations and teams are simply groups of individuals. The better you are at cultivating one on one relationships, the better you will be at figuring out how groups of people really work. You will also learn to get better at becoming more vulnerable, seeking advice, and listening.
You might spend some time improving your own personal leadership skills–the way you lead yourself through your own day. Things like time management, productivity, and a good work ethic will help you become more effective and to better lead by example.
Again, you can do this right now in your current position, even (and especially) if you don’t have formal leadership responsibility.
By many measures, feeling overqualified and unsatisfied with your current job means you have been doing it right. You are supposed to make a stretch to get there, go through a struggle to keep up, and eventually get so good at it that you are bored.
At that point, it’s often going to be up to you to find the next level challenges for yourself. You can’t always count on your boss or company to do that for you.
You can take the initiative. And, if you do, you will find that it pays huge dividends in the end.
By re-approaching your current job as the perfect learning environment for “real world testing” your the new skills you are developing, you can make it a more fun and valuable experience.
THere are three great areas for you to explore.
First is good old fashioned hard skills. In today’s high tech connected world, you can step outside of your day job and pick up literally any skill you want. All you need to do is invest some time and energy on yourself.
Second, you can work on communication skills, which are probably the most valuable addition to anyone’s skill set. Honing your ability to communicate in writing and orally will take you a long way in whatever career path you might pursue.
FInally, you can work on your leadership skills. There are a lot of facets of leadership that you can explore. You might take a course on persuasion, read a book on relationship building, or work to improve your own personal productivity. Any and all of these will be great fodder for practicing and developing in your job right now, no matter what that job may be.
And all of this will set you up for greater success in the job you hold now and any job you might want to hold in the future.